Somehow the Wolves need to figure it out.
We are the youngest team in the league, with nearly a full roster turnover. Our go to scorer is 21 years old and still figuring out how to play with consistency. Our best post scorer and defensive anchor is widely considered a bust around the league. Our top rookie is playing out of position, and our coach is learning on the job as much as any of the players. These aren't excuses; they're reality.
There are no excuses. Tonight, the Wolves were up by as many as 21 points. They had the team with the league's best record dead to rights, and they dropped the ball.
I'm somewhat at a loss as to what to say about this one. The Wolves were a team of extremes tonight, both as individuals and as a team. Some players were really good, some were really bad. No one played just a solid game through and through. Likewise, the team as a whole was excellent through the first three quarters, then terrible in the fourth.
Minnesota built up a huge lead in the first quarter (33-18 after the first 12 minutes), then let the Spurs steadily chip it down. San Antonio outscored the Wolves by a point in the second, three points in the third, then blitzed the team 35-24 in the fourth.
Part of that was simply the law of averages. Manu Ginobili was not going to shoot 20% all night. Tony Parker was not going to shoot 20% all night. At some point, Matt Bonner....the NBA's best three point shooter so far this season...was going to hit on a deep ball or two. Even with the big lead, the Wolves had to know that at some point, San Antonio was going to stage a comeback run, and they did.
Another part of that was the poor play by some key Timberwolves and a bad decision by the coach. Point guard play was atrocious for the Wolves. Luke Ridnour and Sebastian Telfair shot a combined 3-15 from the field, and although they did notch 10 assists and only 2 turnovers, both made some very questionable plays. Ridnour in particular forced things too much in the fourth, when the Wolves really needed him to steady the ship (although I can't blame him for his last shot at the end of regulation) With how often both these guys shoot, one almost wonders if Jonny Flynn really is the right point guard for this team.
The other major issue was that clearly, Michael Beasley's head wasn't in it tonight. The most grievous of his errors were a trio of errant passes he threw....well, to no one in particular. Turning the ball over trying to get it to an open teammate is a tough but often acceptable mistake, but tonight, Beas was just tossing hail marys straight out of bounds. On one play, the ball was swinging around the perimeter and Beasley threw it straight to Gregg Popovich without even looking to see where Corey Brewer was standing.
The very unfortunate thing about that was it ultimately led Kurt Rambis to make two very poor decisions at the end of regulation and OT. Having Luke Ridnour make a suicide run at the hoop is not an acceptable final shot call. Kevin Love with a three point heave when Ginobili is right in his face is not an acceptable final shot call. Even with Beasley playing some rather absent-minded ball, you have to give him those shots. That's half the point of him even being on the team in the first place.
The third part of it all was just some very questionable officiating. I'm not usually one to get on the referees, but tonight was just inexplicable. Two calls in particular really really hurt the Wolves, possibly to the point of costing them the game.
- With 16 seconds left in regulation, Wes Johnson gets called for a foul on Gary Neal at the three point line on a play there was basically no contact on
- 10 seconds into OT, Darko fouls out when Manu Ginobili hurls himself into The Big Manna on a pick-and-roll screen
The Wolves were leading the game 106-103 when that first call was made. Neal's shot was way off, so if that whistle doesn't blow, Sota probably takes this one when Love gets a free rebound and the Spurs are forced to play the foul game.
The second call hurt because....well, because Darko Milicic was just that damn good tonight.
Here's the biggest positive of the night: much like the second half of the Thunder game, Darko dominated the time he spent on the floor. Tim Duncan is getting a little long in the tooth, but he's still one of the NBA's best big men and a savvy competitor who knows how to compensate for age with craft. Tonight, Darko absolutely took it to him. Once again, he had a go-to scoring mentality, calling for the ball and converting his shots. He also put on what's becoming a regular clinic in post facilitation, dishing out a couple fantastic dimes. He had a play in the fourth where he put the ball on the deck between his legs, then slung a cross-court hook pass to a wide open Wes Johnson in the opposite corner. That's the kind of thing I haven't seen from a big man since Arvydas Sabonis. I saw comments about that play on every board and blog I frequent, which really says something considering how little exposure the Wolves get in the media.
Whether management saw it coming or were just crossing their fingers on a shooting star, Darko is entirely justifying the new contract and centerpiece role with this team right now. Here's hoping he keeps it up all year.
The other big positive obviously was Kevin Love. Subtracting the final shot he took in overtime (whether it was a bad call by the coach or a broken play by the team, it shouldn't have happened), Love played a magnificent game. His 32 points and 22 rebounds was more scoring and glass work than the Spurs got out of their entire frontcourt. He also played solid defense, limiting Duncan for the few possessions they matched up together on, and completely blowing Tiago Splitter out of the water.
Other game notes:
- The Wolves are going to have to put in some work figuring out how to get Beasley and Darko to co-exist. Right now, they're alternating, and Beasley is at a loss as to what to do when it's Darko's turn. Kevin Love is at his best playing off the ball...he compliments just about anybody, at least on offense. But we can't have Darko going at it while Beas just stands around, or vice versa, because ultimately we need them both to perform to get wins. We rely on them more than anyone else on the team right now.
- Believe it or not, Tim Duncan is just the latest star big man Darko has outplayed this year (22-8-4 with 5 blocks, to Timmah's 9-13-3 and no blocks) Others on the list: Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin and Amare Stoudemire. Not bad, not bad
- Once again, the Wolves are given another example of why finding a backup center who can defend is crucial. I think I'm just going to repeat it over and over until it actually happens
- Two Wolves ended the night with positive +/-: Darko and Wes. Two Wolves fouled out: Darko and Wes. I feel like someone should be able to establish an empirical correlation between this and us losing
- Check out the Youtube page TeamDarko. It's awesome. The guy who runs it compiles all of Darko's possessions form every game into a video clip, and Darko's highlights are starting to pile up. Good stuff
- Kevin Love made some incredibly smooth shots in the first half. I was starting to wonder if he was really a Monstar who had stolen Glen Rice's talent
- Manu Ginobili is really damn good. Yes, he can be over-dramatic at times, but let's be clear: this guy can ball with anyone on the planet. Just a very unique, very talented player
- Tiago Splitter is going to be pretty good too. Maybe not Tim Duncan good, but still. He got hammered tonight by Love, but you can see the potential there. More than anything, he looks like he's just trying to find a comfort zone and adjust to the NBA pacing and rules. His 16-7-2 averages in the ACB league last year are up in the Pau Gasol stratosphere. I think it's just a matter of time before he figures it out, takes over the Spurs' other starting spot in the paint, and starts being the new Tim Duncan as the old Tim Duncan eases into the vacant David Robinson role.
- Luke Ridnour and Sebastian Telfair: 10 points on 3-15 shooting. Tony Parker: 18 points on 7-16 shooting
- Corey made a terrible gamble on a steal that led to Ginobili hitting a dagger of a three pointer. He then made an incredible steal, shutting Ginobili down and giving the Wolves one last shot to tie or win. Business as usual for the Brew
- Darko over the last 5 games: 18 points, 8.6 rebounds. 3.6 assists, 4.2 blocks. Somewhere, Bill Simmons is eating his shoe and John Hollinger's computer has exploded. Cannot compute.
Tonight, the Wolves could be effectively described as a 4 cylinder engine running on 3 cylinders. They burned the Spurs off the line, but eventually that missing horsepower caught up to them. It's unfortunate that that missing cylinder (Beasley) happened to be the guy we rely on the most to make things happen. This is a young, inexperienced team, and they'll figure out how to close these things out given time, health, and more trial-and-error opportunities, but dropping this one does hurt.
Wolves have a winnable game up next on Saturday against a Warriors team missing David Lee. If you thought seeing Darko dominate games was weird, wait until you see Golden State's new rotations. They actually....make sense....
Until later, all